As we travel together we will learn much about the Jewish psyche, both nationally and personally — to the point that the reader will, smiling, catch glimpses of himself in the spiritual mirrors of the corridors of Chassidus.

The starting point for this comes this week in the Sedra Lech Lecha, where the formwork of Jewry is initially set in place with the first of the Avos (Fathers), Avraham.

The Sedra begins1 “And HaShem said to Avram, go for yourself from your land, from your birthplace and from the house of your father to the land that I will show you.” Whole libraries have been written about this first verse. Briefly however, let us learn that all Jews are being commanded:2

(1) To go to ourselves (to find our own real destiny)

(2)From our land from our birthplace (from the initial apparent limitations of our spiritual geography)

(3)From the house of our father (to find personal maturity in real freedom)

(4)To the land which HaShem will show us (to a state of fulfillment and happiness which will be the result of growth and achievement).

The above posuk is a command. This is the path we must take. Furthermore,3 this command (and therefore mitzvah), was the first mitzvah that Avram received from HaShem. Being directly from HaShem, it was the first moment in history when a human being received the status of being a Jew.

We will see soon, that understanding the celestial genetic DNA of Am Yisrael is dependent on scrutiny of the Avos. Before doing so however, we need to understand some aspects of being a Jew. These are difficult concepts to discuss today when one is discouraged from noticing any differences between people. We are even expected to pretend there is no difference between men and women. Any line of demarcation is deemed racist or bigoted.

In fact much muddled thinking exists here. The ugliness of bigotry and prejudice relates either to denying a group an opportunity available to others, or giving a group an opportunity unavailable to others. Clearly this is unfair and should excite our indignation.

Equally wrong however, is to ignore real differences.

Men for example, remain different from women. Let us agree they should be equal; let us agree one side should not be harmed by the other; let us agree that each deserves to realize their potential and fulfillment without prejudice or bigotry. Nevertheless men remain different from women physically, psychologically and spiritually.

So too, Jew and Gentile. Neither group is to be discriminated against. Nevertheless Jew remains different from Gentile.

In The Ladder Up (Building Block No. 6) it was explained that Jews have a neshamah. This is the functional difference between Jews and non-Jews. There is no Jew alive, no matter how he denies his Judaism, who has not felt an affinity for another Jew which he cannot explain. On board a ship, in a hotel, on an airplane, Jew will acknowledge Jew. People imagine this to be an emotional need for mutual recognition. Not so. What is being expressed is the spiritual need of neshamah recognizing neshamah.

We can describe the neshamah. It is explained in Tanya that the neshamah is a part of HaShem enclothed in the nefesh (soul) of a Jew. This is the specific difference between Jews and non-Jews. Jews have a neshamah, Gentiles do not. The difference is manifested in two main ways: —

The first allows a Jew to reach a level of emunah , a level of faith, a relationship with HaShem, which is described in Chassidus as the level of Reiya (Sight). For a gentile, the highest level of emunah achievable is that which Chassidus describes as Shemiah (Hearing).

What is the difference? If one sees an incident, the seer can have no doubt about it. Experiencing something visually makes for certainty. If on the other hand, a person experiences something aurally, then there is only a presumption of a reality.

A gentile may have a highly developed level of emunah , but this level of emunah is formed by, and founded on, his intellect. A gentile understands that there is a Force in the world, and if his intellect is sophisticated, he understands that that Force is for good. His perception of that Force however, is the perception analogous with hearing. Although presumed to be there based on his reason, his cognizance can never be totally certain.

A Jew on the other hand, interacts with HaShem and this interaction is based on nothing. He may not know how to learn, he may have meager intellect, he may not have ever heard of the Big Bang Theory or Evolution; a Jew simply knows that as he walks down the street, he is in the company of the Almighty. He talks to G‑d, does deals with G‑d. This interaction is at the level analogous to sight in that his certainty is absolute.

Indeed for some, this is in fact a problem. Some Jews have so deep a private dialogue with HaShem they imagine this excuses their transgressions. HaShem understands them totally. He is mindful therefore of their failings and understands. This certainty of HaShem’s knowledge and sympathy is ironically confused with the mistake of a lack of responsibility. “HaShem knows I am a good Jew in my heart”. The very mistake however is the best and most concrete proof of a Jew’s emunah being beyond intellect and reason.

The second way the difference is manifested, is that a Jew has mesirus nefesh (self-sacrifice for G‑dliness).4 Now gentiles too exhibit self-sacrifice, witness Japanese kamikaze pilots. The difference is that, when a non-Jew exhibits mesirus nefesh , it is for the purpose of the completion of his own being. A properly educated ship’s captain of upstanding background bravely stands on the bridge of his ship as it sinks. Why? Because, according to his training, this is the completion of his being as a ship’s captain. Mesirus nefesh can be the culmination of life, whether as ship’s captain or as kamikaze pilot.

A Jew has mesirus nefesh for HaShem which is irrelevant to the completion of his being. Jews have been gassed by the Nazis and burned in Spain. They have been slaughtered by the sword in the Crusades and tortured by imprisonment in Russia. Yet steadfastly Jews have refused to change their religion and their allegiance to G‑d.

The wash of Jewish blood has not only come from the highly educated. Without knowing how to learn or pray, this allegiance is the cornerstone of a Jew’s existence. Russians freed from Russia, seek a Bris at 40 years of age, without knowing why. When pressed, he reasons that he is a Jew. What does that mean? He is not sure, but his mesirus nefesh is absolute to HaShem and has nothing to do with personal fulfillment.

These, therefore, are the identifying marks of the neshamah; that the neshamah has on the one hand a level of emunah with HaShem which is not based on reason and on the other an ability for self-sacrifice to HaShem which is not based on any consideration of personal fulfillment.

The first verse of the Sedra describes these qualities in the first Jew’s relationship to HaShem. The commands therein cannot be realized then by Avram, or now by us, without a level of emunah analogous to sight beyond intellect and without mesirus nefesh beyond the need for personal completion and fulfillment.

Elsewhere, the Rebbe explains5 that this first command to Avram is actually the description of a process; a process for Am Yisrael and a process for every Jew individually. HaShem is telling Avram to go in a specific direction. Spiritually there are two possible directions. Milmaaleh lematah (from above to below) or Milmatah lemaaleh (from below to above.) Both directions are necessary for a Jew. To make a dwelling place for HaShem in this world, which we shall see is a Jew’s purpose in life, requires a descent — that of a neshamah into a body. On the other hand the whole purpose of that descent of the neshamah into the body is so that there should be a subsequent ascent. A Jewish neshamah is being commanded to be involved in the process of this movement from above to below and separately from below to above in the manner we will learn together as we travel through this book.

Avram is being commanded to descend to the lowest level, the level of “land”, “The land I will show you.” There will be revealed something new. What is the something new? An ultimate elevation, ascent. The first stage is the command to go from above to below a descent for a purpose of an ascent. The word Lech Lecha is a repetition. There are no unnecessary repetitions in Torah. The second limb of the mitzvah is a command for ascent. At a simple level, Avram lived in the house of his father, Terach, who was an idol manufacturer. He was commanded to go from this house, a place of impurity and degradation to a land which HaShem will show him.

What is that land? Eretz Canaan, (Eretz Yisrael) is code in Torah, for the level of spirituality in a Jew’s life. Every Jew has an Eretz Yisrael. That part of his life which is spiritual is Eretz Yisrael for a Jew.

The deeper meaning of the posuk therefore is, that every Jew has a capacity to leave a temporarily insignificant position and to go to a land that HaShem will show him. This is a journey to dizzying heights. Know, however, that this journey is a function of effort as we shall see.

The scenario therefore being laid out for every Jew in this week, enables him to recognize his difference. Recognize that he can, and must, leave his present position and by sheer effort cause HaShem to show him his real land; the land of the relationship between a Jew and his G‑d. We will learn more of this together as we travel.